Aug 05, 2011 5:59 PM GMT
From the Canadian AIDS Treatment & Information Exchange (CATIE)
Fear-based campaigns: The way forward or backward?
By Zak Knowles and Laurel Challacombe
Fear-based HIV campaigns were popular in the early years of the HIV epidemic—they typically used scary imagery, such as tombstones, to alert the population to the dangers of HIV/AIDS. Fear-based HIV campaigns have resurfaced with the “It’s Never Just HIV” campaign initiated by the New York City Department of Health. This campaign has dramatically divided HIV activists. But do fear-based campaigns work?
The “It’s Never Just HIV” campaign set off a barrage of commentary from AIDS activists and organizations, with arguments for and against the campaign.
Those who support the campaign believe that there is complacency surrounding HIV and that it is time to remind people of the consequences of HIV infection; it is not something solved by simply popping a pill a day. One of the most vocal supporters was activist Larry Kramer, a writer and founder of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) who said: “This ad is honest and true and scary, all of which it should be. HIV is scary and all attempts to curtail it via lily-livered nicey-nicey “prevention” tactics have failed.”1
Those who are critical of the campaign, including New York’s Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), believe that it stigmatizes both people living with HIV and gay and bisexual men—particularly Black and Hispanic gay men—and creates more fear of the virus. Marjorie Hill, GMHC's Chief Executive Officer said: "We know from our longstanding HIV prevention work that portraying gay and bisexual men as dispensing diseases is counterproductive. Studies have shown that using scare tactics is not effective.
Much research has been conducted to investigate whether or not fear-based campaigns are effective.
fear-based campaigns can produce the opposite effect of what was intended. Such campaigns have been found to provoke two simultaneous, opposing reactions:6,9,10 on the one hand, a positive response—the tendency to adopt the recommended behaviour; on the other hand, a negative response, or a defense mechanism, which results in not adopting the recommended behaviour. More specifically, a fear-based message may evoke the following defensive mechanisms:
Denial—If people believe that the harmful consequence is unlikely or impossible, they may discount or deny the information and the relevance of the message.10,11,12
Othering—“Othering” occurs when the target audience thinks that the message is not directed at them but at some other group.11 For example, older gay men may rationalize that the target audience is younger gay men. When “othering” occurs, people do not heed the message or change their behaviour.
Ridiculing—Ridiculing occurs when a person thinks the message is absurd and, consequently, does not heed its message.
Minimizing—Minimizing occurs when people think that the negative outcome is exaggerated and therefore don’t respond to the message. For example, younger people are more likely to not have a sense of their own mortality; this may lead them to minimize the message.
Avoidance—People may avoid the message altogether.11 People don’t necessarily want their views challenged and may therefore avoid the messages—by flipping the page, changing the channel or simply tuning out.